A conversation with Women’s March 2.0 leader, Darlene Leong Neal
By: Alyssa Curran
Marching alongside more than 15,000 men, women and children at the Women’s March 2.0: Power Together TN Conference and Rally was a uniting and powerful experience for the second year in a row. This year’s tagline, #PowertothePolls set out to celebrate the anniversary of last year’s historic march, and motivate advocates to mobilize in the face of critical midterm elections.
The days and weeks following the march are energizing. Advocates cover their walls with protest signs, and calendars with resistance activities. Participation in local human rights and political groups sparks, and activists recite their first amendment rights like nursery rhymes. But, how do we ensure the movement doesn’t fizzle when the march is but a memory?
I sat down with Women’s March 2.0 Power Together Tennessee founder, Darlene Leong Neal, to talk about her perspective on the current state of the women’s movement in Nashville and discuss ways to remain actively engaged, even after the march.
How did you first become involved with the Women’s March?
Women’s March Tennessee is run completely by volunteers. On November 8, 2016, when the election results became clear, Hawaii native, Teresa Shook, turned to the “Pantsuit Nation” Facebook page and posted that she thought a pro-women march was needed. She went to sleep that night knowing that a few dozen friends had said they would attend. By the time she woke up, 10,000 people had responded to what would eventually become the Women’s March on Washington. The next day, I sent Teresa a message about the need for a sister march in Middle Tennessee. Our team of grassroots organizers set out to develop sister marches across the nation.
Had you worked in the political arena in the past?
No, I have not worked on campaigns, nor did I get a degree in politics. I’m not even a professional organizer. I have, however, led community organizing efforts on a lot of different issues. This movement has grown mainly out of grassroots activism. The march has been successful at giving a voice to those who have been disillusioned with their access to political process, and those who haven’t been involved in this space before.
Fast forward to the Women’s March 2.0 Power to the Polls, how would you describe the current state of the women’s movement, specifically here in Nashville?
I think that we have demonstrated momentum and sustainability because we’ve stayed engaged throughout the entire year. We’re a year out from the original march and we still have active involvement from thousands of new organizers and activists. In Tennessee alone, there were five different Women’s March anniversary events across the state. Additionally, we have listed over 500 events on our closed Facebook calendar, and that’s a significant amount of activity.
How would you compare the state of the women’s movement in Nashville to the rest of the country?
Tennessee, and other Southern states, have some challenges that California and New York, for example, do not. It can be harder in a red state, or in the South, for women to step up fully, and to their power, because we get so many mixed messages about who we should be and how we should act. It’s not a partisan issue for me. It’s not about political affiliation, but it is about values. Our women’s march values are listed in our Unity Principles.
Do you collaborate with march movements in other states or are they unique to each state?
One thing that is important and exciting is this inter-state, collaborative effort on a grassroots level. After the march last year, we instituted Huddle – small neighborhood groups that get together to write postcards, set goals, make phone calls, and be supportive of one another. These Huddles have transformed into voter registration groups, phone banking groups, and more. Sometimes it’s messy, and we have so much to learn, but what encourages me is that we are in the room, on the calls, on the streets and in this struggle together.
How do you recommend that women in Nashville stay involved year-round?
First thing I would say is to join a local Women’s March group. Join our Facebook page as an easy entry point. In Nashville, our Women’s March group represents over 100 different organizations, 501c3 groups, grassroots groups and thousands of individuals. It is a movement that is driven from the bottom-up.
It’s hard to stay in this day-after-day with so much negativity around our work. It can be a toxic environment. We employ a technique that is called Step Up, Step Back. When it’s your time, step up and into the work, but when life happens, take care of yourself. We support people stepping back during those times.
Will Women’s March 2.0: Power Together TN accept donations and volunteers after the March?
We do have to address funding, especially in the South, because our progressive funders are not as robust. The Conference costs money to gather activists, put together issue training, maintain phone banks, materials, venues, transportation, and more. We accept donations year-round.
In terms of volunteers, as we move into the official affiliate status, we are interested in folks who appreciate and understand our bottom-up structure, but can bring their expertise on board.
Nashville’s Women’s March 2.0 was held on Saturday, January 20 at Public Square Park followed by a rally at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. For more information on how to get involved, visit: http://tnpowertogether.org.
By: Alyssa Curran